It feels strange to think back to a time when we weren’t so concerned with social media algorithms.
To the layperson, algorithms were just a nebulous mix of code that we knew controlled what we were seeing in our feeds, but most of us weren’t bothered by it. We accepted the idea that they were a good thing serving us more of what we love. That’s true—to a certain point.
The 2016 presidential election and the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal was a tipping point in how we think about what pops up in our feeds, as well as the offline ramifications of social media echo chambers. Those blinkered content streams only rushed more furiously that same year, as Instagram and Twitter took a cue from Facebook’s News Feed and switched to algorithmically ranked feeds as well...
Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University, believes the same hasn’t been done in the U.S. because of interpretations of the First Amendment and increasing political polarization.
“It’s hard to see our way out of this. If there’s any real hope, it will be Europe that’s leading the way,” Tromble says. “The European regulation that’s in the pipeline is going to have impact far beyond Europe. Those studies and audits that the platforms are going to have to open themselves up to, they’ll be focused on the impacts on European citizens, but we’ll be able to say a lot about what the likely impacts are on American citizens.”